- Historic Sites
Two Years In Kansas
To get started as a prairie homesteader in the 1870s you needed uncommon reserves of strength, sanity, courage, and luck. Trimm had the first three.
February/March 1983 | Volume 34, Issue 2
I ran the furrow straight north into the open prairie.
We chose a spot about a hundred feet back from the creek. That night, after I had picketed out the horses and we had eaten our supper cooked over an open fire, we began our discussion of how large the sod house should be, the decision being mostly left up to me as I had the work to do. We settled on a house twenty by twenty-four feet.
It was now evening. The children were in bed and we were very tired, but to us no day was finished without family worship. Our Bible was packed in our trunk, so we recited the Twenty-third Psalm. “The Lord is my shepherd.… He leadeth me beside the still waters…”
The next morning I was up at dawn and unloaded my plow and harrow and had my horses harnessed by the time my wife had breakfast ready. I started plowing at the creek and ran the furrow straight north into the open prairie for a distance of one hundred and fifty rods, then turned east for a distance of a hundred feet, then back to the creek, leaving an island of buffalo grass one hundred feet wide and one-third of a mile long.
When I completed the trip, I saw that the horses were very tired. Then I realized that the garden I had plowed at Great Bend had been plowed before and that the virgin buffalo grass was a much tougher job.
As we were eating our dinner, my wife said, “I like this idea of an island. It’s romantic and so appropriate in this sea of grass. This will be our love domain and we will defend it against any intrusion by nature or man.”
During the afternoon I plowed two more rounds, and as the horses showed the strain, I turned them loose.
Then we marked the location of our house and staked it out.
The next morning at the break of day I was awakened by the smell of coffee cooking and found that Susie had breakfast ready. Then I got the horses harnessed before we ate.
I said hurry and get the children ready, it’s a long trip. She said, “No, I’m staying here.” I said, “You can’t stay here alone.” She said, “Why not? I will have your guns, so don’t worry. There will be no one to molest me, but if there were I can shoot as straight as you.” I knew then that if we failed, it would not be her fault.
I had an early enough start so that I could gather a load of bone on the way, which I did, and when I reached Ellinwood at about one o’clock they brought eight dollars, which helped a lot on the expenses.
I went first to my sister’s house. It was a surprise, but she got me a hearty lunch. Then I drove to the lumberyard for my load. It didn’t take long, as I had a list of everything I needed.
Then I drove to Seltzer’s, where they loaded me down with books and magazines, which we sorely needed. It was now four o’clock, and they insisted that I stay all night and get an early start next morning.
I had brought toys and candy for the children, which kept them happy while we browsed through the magazines and read the letters I had brought from the post office at Ellinwood. The rest of the day was spent in planning the house I was to build.
It was decided that I would put up the frame, and after the roof and sides were covered with tar paper, we would move in and leave the sodding for later.
The measurements for the framing had been true, and the work went fast. By the first of April we moved in.
I discovered that when the sod was removed, you could shovel this loamy soil as easily as though it was sand. So we decided to excavate to a depth of eighteen inches to give us more headroom.
I used for a foundation two 2- by 6-inch pine planks spiked together and laid flat. That left a two-inch projection beyond the two- by four-inch studding, which after excavation would be a shelf to nail to, eighteen inches above the dirt floor, and would be the basis for built-in benches or a table. We had little furniture except what I could build from any scrap of lumber. The cot and cupboard that came with the wagon helped.
Then we had an unexpected visit from the homestead agent, who congratulated us on the progress we were making. After offering some timely suggestions, he surprised us by saying, “I’ve brought you some neighbors. It’s the Ditton family that has taken a claim five miles up the creek. They’re from Ohio, and I’m sure you’ll like them. They have three sons and a daughter.”